RONALD REAGAN’S 1986 visit to nearby Dothan, Alabama, has been relegated to the footnotes of presidential history, but Ralph Dupree’s Esto neighbors are still asking how he managed to get seated at the table with the President. Some of them seem astounded that Dupree mustered enough influence to get inside the Civic Center, where the dinner was held, and even more astonished that he got such a choice seat — after it had become well known that all admission tickets to the event had been sold.
“It wasn’t influence,” Dupree explained. Then 75 and Esto’s first black town councilman, Dupree said he simply put into practice something he learned in the eighth grade at nearby Noma more than 60 years ago. He said he got his inspiration from a story about “The Boy Who Recommended Himself.”
Dupree said he wanted to meet the President after learning that he was coming to a civic dinner in Dothan, some 30 miles from Esto. “So I went to Dothan and presented my $25 and asked for a ticket to the dinner. But I was informed — not once, but twice — that there was no room at the inn, that all the tickets had been sold.”
Dupree, a longtime acquaintance of Dothan Mayor Larry Register, asked to see the mayor. Dupree said he told Register about wanting to meet the President. It was then, Dupree said, that he told Register that in coming to him he was following the example of “The Boy Who Recommended Himself.”
Dupree said the mayor smiled and directed a member of his staff to “find Ralph a ticket” and to provide him with seating arrangements. Dupree said he didn’t know he was to be seated directly across from the President until Reagan himself arrived.
“President Reagan bragged on Dothan and the people of the Wiregrass area,” Dupree recalled. “Dothan is mentioned in the Bible,” Dupree said the President observed, noting the verse in Genesis where it says, “Let us go to Dothan.”
Dupree said the President seemed relieved after a woman seated nearby advised him to eat his fried chicken by using his fingers, instead of a knife and fork. He said the President then grabbed a drumstick and went to work as if he had done it before.
Dupree said he had intended to keep his napkin as a souvenir, but that “someone borrowed it when I stood up at the end of the President’s speech.”